Summer Detour and the Detour Bag

At the start of the summer holidays, I wrote about a detour. I wrote about my purposeful move away from thinking about teaching all summer long, something I had done for years. I love teaching, and I love learning about learning, and I love reading about new research, and it’s easy to get caught up in spending summers in an altered working mindset. This summer, I detoured off that path and, as tomorrow I start back to work full-time prepping for students next week, I thought a little reflection would bring closure to my summer.

The detour was a bit of a bumpy ride to begin with, but I was determined to shift my mindset so that being a teacher would fade into the background. I admit it didn’t fade easily. I had to push it aside for awhile. In retrospect, it was wonderful to focus on nothing directly work related and instead put all my energy into everything else in my life. The struggle for balance was blissfully absent once I’d pushed aside the temptation to stay in the teacher mindset all summer.

I did all the things I listed in my original post. The boys and I read, biked, swam, and made things. We watched movies together, made cardboard box forts in the living room and spent time being bored.  We traveled through this beautiful province to visit family and friends. We spent rare, special time with the oldest of my nephews. We laughed, fought, goofed around, teased each other and tested one another’s patience. We grew closer. I hope everyone had a chance to do that – my students, my friends, my colleagues near and far. It’s that relationship piece that people always talk about working on in their classrooms. I hope we all remember to work on it at home, too.

The best part? I was able to focus on being a mom. I let my two energetic, growing boys have all my attention. I used to think that working full-time made me a better mother. I used to think that I’d be bored being a stay-at-home mom with kids. I wondered this summer how I could have ever thought that at all. What was I thinking? Was I delusional? Young and foolish? Trying to convince myself that working was better for me and the kids? I love staying home with my boys. It’s precious time that could not be better spent.

I did do one thing on my own. Because I like a challenge, and love to create, and knew that I’d need something interesting and novel to grab my attention and focus on this summer, I made a knitted, felted bag. This may not seem like anything interesting or special to you, but to me, through the summer, as I carefully interlocked yarn stitch by stitch, it became a symbol of my detour. It was the one goal that I set out to achieve this summer, not to read the latest ed leadership book or finish my Masters degree, but to simply finish a bag.

I think I learned a lot more from the process of knitting that piece than I ever thought I would. First off, it was much more difficult than anything I’d ever knitted before. I had to jump in, just do it, take the risk. Also, I made some mistakes and had to figure out how to fix them, or, in a couple of cases, learn to live with them because I couldn’t figure out how to fix them. I had to persevere when it started to get boring. I had to pay attention so that I wouldn’t miss a stitch. Tonight, to finish the project, I went through the process of felting – another thing I’d never done before and one of those things that you realize you have no control over, you just have to do it carefully and hope it all works the way you wanted it to. Many teaching and learning metaphors can be found in the process if you look just a little bit closer than most would.

So, in the end, with work tomorrow, all I really have to show for my summer is a bag. A little, knitted bag, that’s a bit crooked, and according to my older son, looks like a hat upside-down. I call it my detour bag.

It was only a little project, but not so little of an accomplishment. To me, it symbolizes a summer where, day by day, as with stitch by stitch, I slowly bound my family closer and closer together. A little project which gave me the reminder that I was detouring from work to focus on family, and symbolized my priority on having a closely knit family at the center of it all.

 

Digital Footprint Summer to do

Even though it’s summer and I’m purposefully not doing anything work-related, I’m going to create a Summer to do list. I already have a list full of daytrips, family events and other household necessities. This post is the summer to-do specifically related to my digital footprint. Here’s my summer to do:

  1. Change my twitter avatar. Convocation was last fall, and although I am still in that Masters mindset, and I love that photo because my dad took it, it’s time for a change.
  2. Re-acquaint myself with Google Reader. I have a great list of brilliant people. I need to read what they’re thinking. And I’d like to comment on 2-3 posts per week.
  3. Write. Blog. Post. Simple.
  4. Get back to digital photography every day. My Flickr account has been lonely.
  5. Create an about.me page to consolidate all the corners of my digital presence.
  6. Actually use the Posterous account I created awhile back.

I’m guessing that’s enough. I’m also guessing that it’s precisely because I’m not doing anything work-related, my ingrained-listing habit is feeling the need to organize some of my idle summer time.

I guess we’ll all see how much of this I get done. Did I miss anything important? What else should I add to my list?

 

Imagery by me.

 

Disillusioned

Not sure if disillusioned is the right word. According to the Apple Dictionary, disillusion means “disappointment resulting from the discovery that something is not as good as one believed”.

I don’t think it’s disappointment I’m feeling. Searching deeper, according to the Apple Thesaurus, disillusion has a similar meaning to “disenchanted, disabused, disappointed, let down, discouraged”.

Discouraged, yes, but that’s only part of it, although, that idea fits. Disabused, absolutely not. Let down? Maybe. Disenchanted sounds promising. The same source as above defines disenchanted as “free (someone) from illusion”. Hmm, getting closer, and the idea of ‘ignorance is bliss’ comes to mind. The origin of the word is basically the reversal of enchantment. Interesting thought. Thinking backwards helps to get closer.

The thesaurus, once again, helps to focus the flavour in my mind, suggesting that “fed up, dissatisfied, discontented; cynical, soured” hold similar meanings as disenchanted. The fed up, dissatisfied, discontented all fit. Cynical, I hope not, and upon inspecting the definition of the word, thankfully not. Soured, no. But that makes me think of people in the job too long, unhappy with the job to long. Soured describes them well.

After all that, still not sure how I feel. Now that the first school year since completing my masters degree is nearing the end, what is this state of mind that I’m in? I don’t recognize it, it’s new. It has settled in, I think, as a result of the masters learning. It creeps in, despite the fact that I still love working with students in the classroom each day, enjoy helping them, teaching them, learning alongside them. I take comfort in that. I do enjoy the kids and the learning.

So why do I feel so apprehensive of this new mindset? And what does it mean for me, my students, my future students, the career I love and feel so ‘right’ in?

 

Image by gingisklown and accessed from Flickr.

It’s official! I’m a Master!

Shaking the hand of the Dean of Education

Last month my Masters of Education in Educational Practice degree was conferred at Simon Fraser University. My father took some amazing photos, including this photo of me about to shake hands with the Dean of Education, Dr. Kris Magusson. It was an amazing day full of friends, family and colleagues. I had a huge smile on my face all day!

I’m still processing and debriefing, in my mind, all that I learned and all the shifts in my thinking from the MEd last year. It’s absolutely changed the way I teach, the way I think, the way I live my life. I’ve taken a bit of a break from blog posts and professional reading. I continue to tweet, I write in my private journals at home, and I still work too many hours each week, but overall I’m finding time to give my mind a break. There are numerous topics that I want to post on each week but I’m choosing to spend my time with my thoughts and my family instead of spending my time on the computer. I’m thinking that I’ll get back to regular writing in this space soon because I am craving it. I just need a bit more time…

Learning to walk as a master

Last month I completed my Masters in Education in Educational Practice from Simon Fraser  University. This was a graduate field program, meaning that it was designed for working  teachers to complete while continuing to work full time. It involved teacher inquiry into our  practice using qualitative research methods. It was easily the most transformative learning  experience of my life and I feel as if I’m walking through the world differently these days.

What did I learn? I’ve been cooking my thoughts, as Dr. Kelly, our prof, would say, to try to  make sense of the year’s learning. It took me ten days to relax and come down from the  intensity of the thesis submission and final comprehensive presentation. Once I relaxed, I  realized how exhausted I am, both physically and mentally. Aside from the sleep deprivation,  which I can remedy by returning to a normal bedtime, it’s a good exhaustion. It’s similiar to the wonderful feeling I enjoy after a long run when my body feels physically worked and tired, but the better for it. And what was it, exactly, that exhausted my mind? What’s actually still cooking in my thoughts?

I have moments of insight. Moments where there is pure clarity as to what I learned and how the MEd experience changed me. And then there are days of feeling lost and scattered and confused about how to synthesize and articulate even one piece of my learning. Is it even possible to communicate one entire year of intense study? Some days I think I need to just wait and, with time, clarity will arrive. Other days I think that to condense all that learning into so few words is impossible and unrealistic and will never happen, regardless of how much time passes.

I decided on a few profound learnings that I can, with certainty, share at this point:

1. I learned to attend, to be wide awake (see Maxine Greene). Not what I expected at all. I expected to learn ‘something’, not a way of being in the world. I hope to share this with others.

2. I learned that, in my humble opinion, to be literate in Canada today, to be literate in the world today, must include the ability to read and communicate with, and through, images. It’s not enough anymore to simply see literacy as reading and writing; overall literacy must include visuals as one of the forms of communication. I finally achieved an understanding of what this ‘visual literacy’ means and learned the beginnings of how to include it into my practice. See works by Elliot Eisner and David Jakes.

3. I learned that my own notion of citizenship has a local, national, global and digital component. Creating global citizens is a popular topic in education these days, especially in the blogosphere, but to me, that’s only one piece. It’s not sensible to have empathy for those in dire situations on the other side of the planet and yet turn a blind eye on those in dire need in your own community. And the complicated beast that became (digital) citizenship in my thesis is a topic I have yet to tame, although I enjoy the constant and challenging attempt to do so and I now, more than ever before, absolutely see this as a vital component to everyone’s education, not just, but especially, children’s.

4. I learned that deep caring for children, all children, sits as the base of my pedagogy. It always has, but I wasn’t aware of how and why until I wrote my thesis. Motherhood is a part of the deep caring, but not all of it. I care deeply for the well-being, the happiness and the future of all children, mine first, of course, but all other’s children a close second. The theme of care, always present before, but now with the added weight of notions like making decisions based on the 7th generation to come and scholars such as Nel Noddings to bolster and add support, is even more prevalent in who I am as an educator.

5. Finally, thankfully, I learned that I found a place of contentment. This is, of course, more of a mental state than a physical place. I often struggle to be content in life. I have high expectations for myself and those around me. I detest boredom and usually create a constant, positive push to improve and move forward in my life. With the ending of the Masters year, however, I realized I need to stop pushing for awhile and just be. And, thankfully, I’m content with that.

And so, all this learning has left quite an impact on me personally and professionally. I will walk through the world in a different way, truly transformed by the learning experiences of this past year. I know that next month, I will walk into my school and my classroom differently. I’ll walk into that classroom determined to advocate for the arts, an approach, a method that children love and that is important for their education. I’ll walk into that classroom knowing that the reality of shared experience extends beyond the classrooms walls and into an intangible environment entered into through technology and that extension is changing, has already changed how we learn, engage with one another, and live our lives. I’ll walk into that classroom sensitive not only to the influence that my family’s complicated heritage has offered, now offers, to my practice, but also keenly aware that each of my students also bring known and unknown family history to their learning and our classroom environment. Finally, I know that I will walk differently as a mother with a new perspective on how to raise my children.

More to come…

 

Imagery: Waking creativity by jenn.davis and Jurassic Park by mallitch, both from Flickr.com and used under Creative Commons licensing.

 

Becoming a Teacher Researcher: Shifting, Stretching and Spiraling

330655247_a488fc76ac_zToday my identity shifted a little. Today there was a subtle stretching of who I am and where I’m headed in life. I was warned that this change would be uncomfortable.  But that’s okay, this change is by choice.

As of today, I’m officially a teacher researcher.

I started the final year of my Masters of Education in Educational Practice at Simon Fraser University this morning. Eleven months of intense academic study during which I will read numerous books, work through various articles and readings, create a proposal for an inquiry of my choosing, complete a field study in my classroom/school/school district, write a major research paper and present my learning to my cohort and professors. Dr. Kelly, the professor for this first course, described the entire MEd experience as a spiral of learning and my understanding is that readings will be revisited, ideas will reappear and the process will build upon itself with time.

It’s a fantastic challenge.

It seems to me that the first part of the process is to determine where I fit in as a teacher researcher into the vastness that is the field of education. Before that can be determined, however, I have to take a good, hard look at myself and figure out who I am as a person and as an educator. Teaching is, for those of you looking from the outside in, an incredibly personal experience and I think you’d be hard pressed to find a teacher able to separate their professional and personal self. So, a few thoughts on “Where I’m From”, one of the homework assignments for tonight…

  • I’m from Irish, Scottish and Cree people
  • I’m from the natural world and need to be a part of it
  • I’m from a beautiful part of the world full of huge mountains, breath-taking valleys, and a rugged coastline
  • I’m from a little town surrounded by a rich variety of wildlife – bears, deer, coyotes, wolves, bighorn sheep, mountain goats, salmon, sturgeon, steelhead, rainbow trout, eagles, owls and more – and I love that I share that home with them
  • I’m from a city where the mountains touch the sea
  • I’m from a succession of strong women – intelligent, passionate, intuitive, loving, wise
  • I’m from a big immediate family, but a smallish extended one

The other part of the process that I learned about today was how to read. Really read, not skim through, not decode and forget, not glide over the surface, but take-your-time-to-actually-ingest-the-text type reading. That reading requires two things often missing in our busy world – time and thought.

240234623_1d7b8b4b87To illustrate the notion of ‘reading well’, we read  The Ethics of Reading: A Traveler’s Guide. To be honest, the title makes me think of universe imagery every time I look at it. The article, by Amelie Oksenberg Rorty, expands the definition of what it means to read so widely that the universe imagery makes perfect sense and I’m wondering when during the first reading that picture appeared in my mind.

In the article, Rorty offers advice and lists questions to ask when reading to more fully understand the text. Advice such as read, then set the work aside and see how it affected you: questions to ask about the author to more completely experience the meaning inside, behind and within the words.

It was late in the day, as I was packing up to leave, that I experienced an ‘aha’ moment, or completed my first little spiral of learning. The Rorty article included details on what questions to ask about the ‘historical author’ of a piece of writing. Rorty offers the following advice:

Identify the historical author. What was his education? what had he read? What was his early environment and experience?

Isn’t that exactly what the first homework assignment was about? Hadn’t we been led through a process in which we thought about and shared who we were, where we came from, what our experiences have been? I think we were asked to identify ourselves, the future author of the final research paper, in order to situate our own thinking in preparation for the stretching, the shifting and the learning to come.

Today my identity shifted a little. Today there was a subtle stretching of who I am and where I’m headed in life. I was warned that this change would be uncomfortable, especially at the beginning.

But then, stretching is somewhat uncomfortable, isn’t it? If you don’t feel a slight tug, nothing’s stretched at all.

Imagery by SubyRex and Emdadi on Flickr.

My First and Greatest Teacher – My Mom

I’ve been saving this one for today.

Many educators write about their role models – those amazing people who we aspire to be. I’ve read many posts by teachers who want to acknowledge and pay tribute to those wonderful people they respect and admire. There is always at least one person that inspired us to follow the career path that leads into the classroom.

For me, that person was my mother.

I loved school when I was little.  I was a quiet, shy, little girl and I found everything about school very easy. I thrived with kind and caring teachers. I remember sitting at my desk looking out the window at the rainy day beyond with a feeling of safety and contentment.

I also learned at home, as all children do, but my experience was different from most. My mother returned to finish her teaching degree when I was seven. My younger brother and I became her ‘guinea pigs’ as she tried various teaching strategies, etc. on us before trying them with her students. I remember sitting at the kitchen table doing art projects, science experiments and various other activities with her.

Mom earned her degree, chose a grade two position in a small town and we moved there the summer before I entered grade four. Unfortunately, my school experiences during the next two years were almost the exact opposite of what I had previously enjoyed. I was the ‘city slicker’ and excluded by my classmates from the start. The only happy memories from school at that time are focussed on academic successes.

Many years ago, as a student teacher, I completed an assignment based on my memories of school. The purpose of the assignment was to make connections between early learning experiences and the emerging belief system we were developing as new teachers. At that time, research reminded me that the learning methods widely used when I was a child involved sitting, reading quietly at a desk, and learning by writing answers to questions in a text or workbook and rote learning.

I remember thinking that that didn’t sound like the kind of classroom that would create a love of learning! It certainly wasn’t what I had envisioned for my future students! Where did my concept of what a classroom should be like come from? 

I love active learning and getting my students involved. I am passionate about helping them discover new interests. I was confused about my success as a child in what I now perceived to be a stale learning environment which didn’t resemble my beliefs at all. Perhaps I had been successful largely because I was well behaved, a strong reader and an independent learner? At the time, I was also perplexed by the fact that although I strongly disliked school after moving, my love of learning continued throughout my intermediate years and beyond. It did not seem to make much sense. 

It was at that point that I realized my love of learning and my teaching style came from my mother.

Through that assignment years ago, I came to the important realization that my most cherished memories of learning were when I learned with my mother. I have many happy memories collecting shells at the beach, finger painting at the kitchen table and hours spent reading with and to my mom. I also realized that my varied interests, from science experiments, to a love of literature and a passion for art were the result of her influence. She had always taken an interest in my likes and dislikes. With gentle and caring encouragement, she helped me to follow my dreams, however varied they were, and no matter how often they changed.

I love learning in general and in a variety of ways and in a variety of subject areas thanks to my mom:  my first and greatest teacher.  She was the reason I wanted to become a teacher and she, as a mother and as a teacher, shaped my beliefs about teaching and learning. Her equivalent of a value statement, which was always at the front of her daybook, is incorporated into my teaching philosophy. She continued as my mentor throughout teacher training and during those first few years at the start of my teaching career. Her support was priceless.

My teaching remains completely student-centered and I still prefer active, hands-on learning largely because of her. I have a strong personal background and an intense passion for a variety of subjects because of her. Now I gently encourage my students to pursue their interests and discover passion in life, as she did with me. If I can be half the teacher she was, I’ll consider myself a success.

My mother was an educator for 22 years and was a master of her craft. As good as she was at teaching (and she was excellent), she was a better mom. She died six years ago, a slow, painful death from a horrible disease. I miss her so much, and in so many ways, sometimes grieving as a daughter, other times wishing I could consult with my teacher-mentor/mom. Her immediate effect on my teaching and my life is gone, but her influence is firmly woven into my teaching, my learning, my everything.

Happy Mother’s Day, Mom. This one was for you.

7 Things You Don’t Know About Me

I’ve been tagged for a meme for the first time! Thanks Jan! Okay world, here are seven things you don’t know about me:

  1. I have a new puppy. Her name is Bailey and she’s adorable.
  2. In less than thirteen years as a teacher, I have taught all grades from Kindergarten to Grade Twelve. I started teaching Intermediate, and then taught Primary for a few years. I currently teach students from Grade 8 – 12 and all of my classes are multigrade.
  3. I love to bake. My specialty is a thick, soft gingerbread cookie covered with a layer of chocolate and then decorated with Smarties…yummy!
  4. I’ve been with my high school sweetheart for 26 years.
  5. I am motherless. My mom died just over five years ago after a long, horrible battle with cancer. I don’t think I really grew up until after she died. I miss her so much. There’s a blog post simmering in the back of my mind about her, so more to come on that…
  6. I love to run. I go for a short run outside every other day, regardless of the weather.
  7. I discovered true friendship in my thirties. It changed my life.
  8. Small town + large teaching family = I taught one of my brothers and my sister. I taught for one year at a school where my father was the principal. Also, I was a substitute teacher for my mother and another of my brothers was a substitute teacher for me.

I know, that’s eight, not seven. I can count, I just couldn’t decide which of those to leave out, so consider the extra one a bonus!

Because I’m fairly new to blogging, I don’t know that many bloggers. I do read many blogs though, so most of the people I’m going to tag are people that write blogs I subscribe to.

I tag Betty Gilgoff, Cindy Martin, Phil Macoun, David Truss, Geeky Mom, Craig Roland. and Steve Dembo.